Thursday, December 13, 2012

A New Moon in Nineteen Seventy Nine.

My earliest foray into earning cash was in music stores. Music stores are...perhaps were...a great place to expand one's cultural horizons as all the employees tend to be deep into one type of music or another.  Some stuff they agree on, much they do not. And eventually you find your place in the spectrum.

More or less exactly how I looked in 1995 at my store in Pontiac, MI.
It also does a fine job embittering you to how generally awful and limited the taste of the general public is.  And I don't say that because they didn't like specifically what I liked.  No, they didn't tend to see eye-to-eye with any of my fellow employees on much of anything, and not because we were all elitist (though some definitely were). We all had our guilty pleasures, but the public tended toward the bland chart toppers, the same greatest hits collections,  and whatever was passing for bad dance music at the time.

In any event, at various times, I learned to try it all and give anything a chance if only to see where it fit in. I love not only knowing who influenced the artists I liked, but also who they influenced. Nothing's created in a vacuum, so I like to find the threads in the tapestry. But there are ends I stop short of that usually start with the non-hyperbolic modifier "deep."

Symphonic or Prog rock tends to fall on the "deep" end of the rock spectrum: large, expansive, heavily layered, experimental walls of sound that can frequently be impenetrable.  The cover art usually depicts an otherworldly place that only this music could be the soundtrack to. And like the sci-fi/fantasy worlds it seems to depict, it's usually only there for those who really care to plumb the depths. It's usually not catchy. It's not hooky. It's a twenty minute odyssey that will in no way break the radio play charts. And just because it's symphonic doesn't mean it's melodic.

"On your left you can see Detroit, Michigan...and on your left Fresno..."
There are some exceptions of course, but if you came at a prog fan with only Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues or the couple of pop hits that Yes cranked out, you'd only receive the smug derisive chuckling that the initiate reserves for the outsider.  All the same, I'm not generally a fan of the stuff. Seeking to expand the sound of rock and add weight to it isn't a terrible goal, but considering rock's roots, it was perhaps a bit wrongheaded. Addition and expansion eventually become bloat and pretension, which in this case led to the stripped down distorted roar of punk.

Having said all that, I took a wild stab at a prog album from Japan: 1979's Shingetsu by the band of the same name. Shingetsu, which means "new moon," lasted a mere six years and only produced this one work, but what they did do has been heralded an exalted enough to continue to be dispersed in this modern age. I can't say that I disagree.

Seems like a good place to reaffirm my love for a well done "Alice" tribute
Much of my exposure to Japanese music has fallen into one of three categories: the sugary overload of J-pop, the wild experimentation of the electronic, and the melodic melancholy of the more traditional or musical scores.   Shingetsu doesn't fall into any of those three categories. Though it has moments that have a more pop feel than a fair amount of prog, it certainly doesn't have much of the trite Top 40 Tokyo feel. Though it is certainly experimental with the multiple layers of sound, it's doesn't have some of the rabbit punches of abrasiveness I've come to expect. And while it does have enough of the mood of some of the more traditional stuff, it would be more like the soundtrack to a late 70's animé version of Heavy Metal.

Ok...with just a smidge of Goblin mixed in there at varying points.

Lead vocalist Makoto Kitayama has a gentle, emotional voice with some fine acrobatics to match the highs and lows of the tunes. The band is a sharp set of musicians who are more than capable of spinning a pretty good sound web.  Each song usually features a pretty steady rise and fall in arrangement and tempo making for miniature musical journeys in the framework of the whole.  I can't comment as to the quality of the lyrics as I'm not as well versed in Japanese as I'd like to be. It could be all about Yōkai playing poker while eating pickles atop Mount Fuji while the Lord of the Rings is re-enacted in the various Japanese theater styles below. I don't think it is, but I have just thought of a pretty good theme for my next concept album.

"+2 Vocal abilities...+1 Charisma points...and +4 Snappy Dresser..."
I'll confess that though I'll occasionally still give prog a chance, it rarely talks me into a second listen, either because it's simply too dense for me to get into, too ethereal to make much of an impression, or simply too pretentious a bloated mess for me to care about. Shingetsu, however, has managed to keep me quite well enchanted for the half-dozen spins I've given it thus far. I shall look forward to spinning it again.

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